'HE' shows Brad Thomas the way to get home

"Show Me the Way to Go Home" marks the first solo museum exhibition for Brad Thomas in over a decade."Show Me the Way to Go Home" by Brad Thomas. // Photo by Dabney Smith.

A native North Carolinian, Thomas presents his first solo museum exhibition in over a decade

Brad Thomas. Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.
Brad Thomas. Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.

Brad Thomas is trying to kill the clown, but the clown just won’t die.

The single image of the clown is simply known as “HE.” HE could be any of us. HE could be me. HE could be you. HE could be Brad Thomas himself.

“This clown’s meaning — in all its manifestations — remains a mystery to me,” Thomas wrote in his artist statement about “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” his exhibition currently on view at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts in Boone. “At times HE is a self-portrait parading my darkest fears and deepest anxieties.”

Thomas, who relocated to Minneapolis from Charlotte last year, presents works in the exhibition that include the clown he began using in 1993, which was inspired by the 1924 silent film “He Who Gets Slapped” starring Lon Chaney. The film is about a forlorn clown whose nightly performance consists of getting slapped by all the other clowns.

This is Thomas’ first major solo exhibition since 2004, and marks not only his return to his home state, but also his full-time return to art making. Born in the small, mountain town of Mount Airy (best known as the home of actor Andy Griffith and the inspiration of fictional town Mayberry), the influence of a southern upbringing is evident in his Thomas’ work.

After graduating from UNC-Charlotte in 1992, he went on to have a very successful career as a visual artist and became one of Charlotte’s most influential curators and art museum directors. He was honored as the 2015 Distinguished Alumnus award in the Department of Art & Art History, the first alum to receive the honor from the UNC-Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture.

Last summer, after 25 years, Thomas decided to return to his original love of creating his own visual art. HE is showing Thomas the way home.

"Redeemer II: Man Floating" is the centerpiece of the Turchin exhibition. It confronts the viewer with themes of religion, race, iconography of the South and suffering.
“Redeemer II: Man Floating” is the centerpiece of the exhibition and confronts themes of religion, race and iconography of the South. // Photo by Dabney Smith.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is “Redeemer II: Man Floating.” When you walk into the gallery space, the huge, mixed media piece is impossible to ignore. The clown is holding an image of a nude African American male lying on his back, and the size of the artwork is staggering; it took an entire day and many staff members to install. But the subject matter also throws visual punches. Nudity, especially male nudity, often makes people “uncomfortable.” The nude man ignites feelings of suffering, almost referencing Jesus on the cross or the “Pietà” by Michelangelo. “Redeemer II” also references the suffering of African Americans in the South during slavery and beyond.

Mary Anne Redding, Turchin Center curator and assistant director, gave ArtsNow a personal tour of the show and a preview of the exhibition and said Thomas was great to work with.

“It is an honor for us to work closely with Brad for this groundbreaking installation,” she said. “The exhibition includes mixed media collage/paintings, and, what’s really exciting, Brad’s illustrations for one of his artist’s books, ‘The Book of He.'”

Redding describes the pages of the book as revealing “the many facets of the artist’s complicated and contradictory personality.” She also said the way it’s installed reinforces the idea that we don’t always reveal our true selves.

Thomas will give a lecture at the gallery on July 1 at 5 p.m. with a musical accompaniment.

“Show Me the Way to Go Home”
Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, 423 West King St.
Reception: July 1, 5 to 10 p.m.; on view until August 6

There will also be opening receptions for four other exhibitions as part of the Summer Exhibition Celebration:

“International Series: Contemporary Artists from Brazil”

Now in its fifth international series, the Turchin Center highlights contemporary Brazilian artwork. Galeria Nara Roesler is one of the premier contemporary art spaces in Brazil, with locations in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and a new satellite showroom in New York City.

“Color Me This: Contemporary Art Jewelry”

Eliana Arenas is the guest curator for an exhibition of contemporary art jewelry showcasing the use of explosive color and non-traditional materials. Artists include: Julia Barello (Strange Gardens), Ashley Buchanan , Kat Cole, Bob Ebendorf, Maria Eife, Teresa Faris, Anne Fiala, Laritza Garcia, Young Joo Kim, Lorena Lazard, Tara Locklear, Marissa Saneholtz, Rachelle Thiewes, Vincent Pontillo Verrastro, and Laura Wood.

“A Sense of Place: Eliana Arenas”

Eliana Arenas was born in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. She currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and two children. Arenas’ jewelry and installation work explores the capabilities of human beings to adjust to difficult situations.

“Melting: Marietta Patricia Leis and David Vogel”

Marietta Patricia Leis and David Vogel are quietly eloquent activists. They recently traveled to the Antarctica aboard a Russian research icebreaker under strict conservation guidelines established to allow visitors to observe but not disturb the pristine wilderness. The artists hope that if people are drawn to the beauty of their art from the expedition they will become acutely aware of the fragile future of Antarctica and its natural inhabitants.


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